When practitioners from different disciplines and areas of focus come together, new ideas are sparked and innovative works of art are created. Joe Citizen is a Media Arts tutor at Wintec and a local Hamilton artist with an interest in connecting technology with Mātauranga Māori and the environment. His current venture, The Matariki Interactive Waka Project, is a collaborative work that has been developed through an interdisciplinary approach working with many different learning and research areas within Wintec and the wider Waikato community. Read on as Joe shares advice and recommends specific strategies when involved in project based collaborative practice.
Can you tell us about your latest collaborative project?
I’m working to make a 6.15m corten plate steel interactive waka that will use an environmental sensor network to trigger sound and lighting changes. As the artist, I’m one of many partners working with Wintec’s Māori Achievement office to make it a permanent public art work at Hamilton’s Ferrybank park, beside the Waikato river. The project combines students from across Engineering, Trades, Early Childhood Education and Media Arts, with external stakeholders like Longveld, ACLX, Hamilton City Council, and mana whenua.
Have you found collaborating with others helps your creativity? Have you enjoyed the process, why?
This idea that creativity is a solitary pursuit is not at all helpful – working together to make something happen is a way of making big things happen. Being part of something bigger than myself is immensely rewarding, as it means I have to constantly challenge myself to come up with what works for the whole project – so yeah, it’s a really creative process. Enjoyment is probably harder to define as there are times when being challenged and challenging myself is less than ‘enjoyable’ – but in the end it’s the best, because it means I’ve really given something my all, and there’s nothing better than sitting back and going ‘wow’, I was a part of that.
Working together to make something happen is a way of making big things happen.
Do you have any practical/technical tips when working on a collaborative project?
Good communication skills are probably the number one thing that will make or break a project, and I don’t mean the ability to be understood so much – although that’s important as well – but constantly being on to it, establishing those lines of communication right at the start, being organised, finding ways to ensure that you’re all on the same page by checking in with each other. I’d say the most important thing is face to face communication skills – people like people who are confident, smile, seem genuinely interested and do what they say they are going to do. Actually that last one is the most important – do what you said you were going to, but don’t be afraid of rolling with changes so that it becomes its own thing in the world, which is not the same as ‘your’ thing.
Can you identify any specific methods of communication that make collaboration easier?
Face to face is important but we also exist in a digital world, and it’s crucial to recognise that different people have their preferred mediums. There is no point posting something on Facebook if the people you’re working with only do that for their personal lives, or have opted out. Despite people talking about the ‘death of email’ it’s still the means by which most businesses operates, so knowing how to write a good email – the right tone, the right subject description, the right ending etc – these are things no-one teaches but are essential in making a collaborative project happen. And something that took me a long time to learn – never, ever, write an email or post when you’re angry. Whatever you’re feeling is one thing, but sleep on it and come back to it later – for once you send it out there it exists forever..
Collaboration isn’t just a working practice, it’s also an immensely powerful strategy to make goals a reality.
The other essential thing is getting your kaupapa right – not just what your goals are, but having working agreements about how you will do something. It’s all very well having a great set of goals if you haven’t taken into account that we all work differently, are motivated by different things, have different philosophies, or understand different things even when we say the same words. Being open to ways that are different to how you would ‘normally’ do things is key – it’s not really a method then, it’s more of an attitude.
Collaborating can be tricky as there may be more restrictions and compromises when working with someone on a project, what strategies do you use to overcome issues like these?
Great question! Every project has times when things go off the rails or you feel like it’s not working out. Having your own sense of integrity and being honest with others becomes critical – both for your own sense of wellbeing but also so people know where you are coming from. This said, timing is also important! Be patient, and try to see things from other people’s perspectives. An underestimated skill is learning how to listen to others – not just what they say and how they say it, but what they don’t say, or what’s missing in a conversation with them. Sometimes we can become blind to what others have to contribute because they feel they didn’t have an opportunity to be heard. Finding ways to make this happen, even if it means employing quite artificial structures like a ‘talking stick’ approach means we can concentrate on what’s actually important – finding solutions to overcome the current problem.
Also – and this is absolutely critical – remember that there is always another way of doing things. Sometimes we let the restrictions overwhelm us, but if all else fails, make that obstacle or restriction a feature. Turn those negatives into positives.
How have you found people to collaborate with? Do you have any advice for people who want to get more involved in this way of working?
People are attracted to ideas, so get those ideas out there! I often make drawings and a small one to two descriptive paragraphs of a project idea, then send them out to people who I think might be interested – who I’ve met through all sorts of connections. For me, the basic skill is face to face communication, but I’ve worked with a number of people whose primary skill is writing, and this too is very effective. The other important thing is time – which most people have a limited supply of, so find ways in which your collaborative partners can time-shift, or work together to find mutually helpful solutions.
In the arts and elsewhere, it’s people who come first, and if you work together then anything is possible.
Do you have any other thoughts and comments about collaboration in the Arts?
Leave your ego at the door, the project comes first. Once you get that, everything else falls into place.
I also want to say something about money. It seems to me that a lot of people think things can’t be done without money, or conversely, they will happen if you have it. In my experience, neither of these things are true by themselves. Giving people the opportunity to contribute is actually a more powerful thing to do, and this only happens if you respect people and their ways of doing things. You can be at the top end or the bottom end, but if you don’t have respect, or give it, then there’s only a limited amount of things that will be achieved. Don’t ever let money, or lack of it, be a reason why you didn’t try something different.
Collaboration isn’t just a working practice, it’s also an immensely powerful strategy to make goals a reality. In the arts and elsewhere, it’s people who come first, and if you work together then anything is possible. The opposite is true too -you’re only as good as your reputation. If you stuff up then take responsibility, and try and to make it right as soon as you can.
Finally I’d say this – take more risks! Nobody ever did anything interesting in the arts by playing it safe.
A massive thanks to Joe Citizen for sharing your words of wisdom on this pivotal topic.
Find details on Joe’s current collaborative venture The Matariki Interactive Waka Project here.
Find out more about The school of Media Arts interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to teaching and learning here.
Graphic designers, illustrators and artists from around the globe are experiencing a Risograph renaissance. The Risograph allows makers to quickly duplicate a high volume of layered prints in an affordable and environmentally friendly way – it’s a great alternative to more conventional duplication methods such as laser printing and photocopying. We caught up with former Media Arts graduate, Craig McClure, at the 2017 Hamilton Zine Festival and asked him about his newest purchase – a Risograph printer. Read on to discover what it’s all about.
The Riso is still really new to me so I am still playing around and testing things. I do love the tactile nature of it, plus you get your hands a bit dirty. The machine is pretty old so you have to get in there to make it work; inevitably you end up with ink on your hands, that is soon all over the machine, and even gets transferred to your prints in finger print form, all part of the charm. Also the quality of the print is really unique. The surface of the ink is more like thin paint than toner ink, it has a really nice quality to it. Oh, and finally, it’s really loud. A drum has to spin over the paper as it fires through at high speed… I like it for lots of reasons.
The surface of the ink is more like thin paint than toner ink, it has a really nice quality to it.
The surface of the ink is more like thin paint than toner ink, it has a really nice quality to it.
The speed! It can print up to 120 sheets per minute. I haven’t had much of an excuse to print anything in large quantities yet, but look forward to it. It’s really satisfying to see it churn out a whole stack.
There are 3 main aspects involving a scanner strip or scanner bed in the bigger models, a banana paper master (very much like a screen in screen printing) and soy based ink fed through a drum.
A drum has to spin over the paper as it fires through at high speed. It can print up to 120 sheets per minute.
The unique limitation with the Riso is that for a second colour, you require a new master (just like screen printing layers). Right now I have 2 printers with 1 extra colour drum. I am still sourcing different inks so that I can do multiple layer prints, that’s my main goal right now. Also with sharing the printer at Zinefest some potential collaborations with a local illustrator and a local graphic designer have been born. So I’m looking forward to exploring those opportunities.
I have a CR1610 model, if anyone has any ink or colour drums or parts in general, let me know, I am interested!
A huge thanks to Craig McClure for taking us through the Risograph printing process and for sharing his work with us at the 2017 Zine Festival! Learn more about Risoprinting here.
Inspired by what you see? Find more information on studying Visual Arts at The School of Media Arts here.